If you’ve been following my turgid dissertation on choosing a compact digital camera for photographing food in restaurants, you know that we’re up to the final chapter on the camera part.

  1. macro focusing or closeup mode (or “food mode”)
  2. a wide angle lens
  3. a “fast” lens
  4. flash that’s easy to turn off (and stays off!)
  5. ergonomics you like


I dislike flash for lots of reasons, but for today’s discussion let’s just stipulate that it’s super-annoying to be dining in a nice restaurant (or even a lousy one) and have strobes going off around you.   For this reason, I have dedicated more than a little time and energy to figuring out how to photograph food in low-light situations without using flash.

So I recommend that you find a compact digital camera with one of two flash-constraining options:

1. A pop-up flash that has to be manually popped up.  This completely prevents accidental flashing.
2. A persistent flash setting.  This is a little harder to explain and even harder to find without trying the camera out.  We’re looking for a setting that turns the flash off, that’s easy.  But we’re also looking for a camera that remembers that you shut the flash off when you turn the camera off and then on again.  Again, that should minimize accidental blinding of fellow diners.

While I’m at it, I’ll just say that in my opinion, nearly all compact digicam flashes are too close to the lens and ill-suited to close-up work anyway.  Most of the time I find they totally blow out the plate.  Merlin Mann appears to agree.


This is harder to quantify, and for once, I’m not going to lecture you at length about my fiddly preferences.  You want a camera that you’re going to use.  One that’s easy and ideally fun to use, and one that produces results you’re happy with.

Some cameras have lots of buttons, some have very few.  Some come in pink.  Some have viewfinders, some don’t.  There are a lot of hard to quantify characteristics that contribute to usability, and many of them are very individual.  If at all possible, I recommend an extended test-drive to make sure the camera fits your hand, your eye and your mind as well as your budget and your pocket or purse.

Next time: quick photshop tricks for fixing up those low-light restaurant food pics…